OWINGS MILLS – Baltimore Ravens inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe timed his blitz perfectly, busting into the backfield untouched to deck Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel.
Combining for the sack with cornerback Lardarius Webb, Ellerbe was right on time. He arrived so early that the Chiefs were unable to react to his rapid burst.
Now, the former University of Georgia standout is mirroring that timing by how he conducts himself at the Ravens’ training complex by no longer showing up late after some tardiness issues during his second NFL season.
Ellerbe took up residence in the Ravens’ doghouse last year for a variety of reasons, but indicated he doesn’t concern himself with the past or how he’s perceived.
“I really don’t worry about that,” said Ellerbe, who’s trying to unseat incumbent Jameel McClain for a starting job at inside linebacker. “I’ve been going through that ever since college. I’m kind of used to that. I just go out and do my thing and work hard out here.
“I went through it my whole career at Georgia just about. I’m used to it. I really don’t care about what people say as long as I know what I’m doing is right and as long as I’m good in-house with the coaches.”
Last year, Ellerbe, 25, got heavier than the coaches wanted him to during the offseason last year. He was ordered to report at 240 pounds by training camp, which he did.
He showed up five minutes late for at least one flight to an away game.
“It was a couple of times,” Ellerbe said. “It really wasn’t my fault I was late, but I’ll take responsibility for it.”
And Ellerbe angered coach John Harbaugh during the Ravens’ preseason finale against the St. Louis Rams when he showboated into the end zone during an interception return in his first NFL touchdown.
Harbaugh immediately berated Ellerbe before he even made it back to the sideline after the touchdown.
“It was a learning experience,” Ellerbe said. “It was my first NFL touchdown. I just wanted to do something to spark up the defense. I hope I earned his trust and I look forward to moving on.”
This year, though, Ellerbe’s relationship with the coaching staff seems to have improved significantly.
He’s not getting yelled at anymore, and he has drawn praise from defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano.
“I feel like this should be my best year as far as my relationship with the coaches,” Ellerbe said.
The Ravens have started McClain each of the first two preseason games, but Ellerbe was impressive in a start against Kansas City with All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis excused from the game due to a family illness.
“Dannell has really matured,” Pagano said. “He’s just starting to shine. He’s confident, he’s big, he’s physical, he’s fast, he can run, he can cover. So, he can do a lot of different things.
“He’s taking notes, he’s in his iPad, he’s studying, he’s asking the right questions and it’s showing up on the field. You’ve got great mentors and great guys here, so if you just say, ‘Whatever he’s doing, do what he does,’ your game is bound to rise also. I’m really proud of him that way.”
Ellerbe is a speedy 6-foot-1, 243-pounder who was the lone undrafted rookie to make the Ravens’ roster two years ago, ending that season as a starter opposite Lewis.
In college, Ellerbe was so highly regarded as a blue-chip recruit from North Carolina that he was nicknamed “The Phenom.”
“That’s because I was fast when I came in, fast and strong and I was doing a lot of stuff athletically,” Ellerbe said. “In running drills, they would me run with the defensive backs and I was a linebacker.”
Ellerbe wound up not being drafted primarily because of concerns about his character following a driving under the influence incident where he ran a car into a tree and was suspended. He also dealt with a lingering knee injury for his senior year and his level of play dropped.
Ellerbe wound up recording eight tackles in his first NFL start against the Chicago Bears as a rookie. He intercepted a pass and recovered a fumble against the Oakland Raiders, finishing seventh on the team with 55 tackles for the league’s third-ranked defense.
Last year, though, Ellerbe’s playing time dwindled as he appeared in 11 games with one start and his production dipped to 29 tackles and one sack.
During the playoffs, there was something of resurgence as Ellerbe had six tackles and forced a fumble in an AFC divisional playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Still, McClain had already established himself and Ellerbe had been demoted after starting the final three games as a rookie.
“I took it as a stepping stone,” Ellerbe said. “It just means I had to work even harder and fight even harder for what I want. I appreciate it. It’s making me a better person.”
What does Ellerbe have to do to win the job?
“I’ve got to play better than him,” Ellerbe said. “I think I’m playing good. I’m not making mental errors. I’m making plays, I’m not getting plays made on me. I’m feeling good.
“I feel like I can do everything: cover, take on fullbacks, rush. I did it all my rookie year. I played every snap. I know I can do it.”